Jack Leigh: Full Circle, Low Country Photographs, 1972-2004

BY Bill Mindlin, July 24, 2014

Jack Leigh, Midnight, 1993. Courtesy SCAD Museum of Art

Savannah photographer Jack Leigh, who died ten years ago at the age of 55, is perhaps best known for his 1993 photograph Midnight, which depicts the famous Bird Girl sculpture in Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery. The photograph was commissioned by Random House for the cover of John Berendt’s immensely popular 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

But Leigh was a prolific photographer whose black-and-white images are firmly rooted in the American documentary tradition. His passion was photographing the South’s fading traditions — the oystermen of coastal South Carolina, remote hamlets along the Ogeechee River, the dwindling shrimping industry. He spent years with the people he photographed, gaining their trust and sharing the pictures he made. 

Leigh attended the University of Georgia and later studied with George Tice, Eva Rubinstein, and Jill Freedman, whose photographs are also included in the exhibition, providing context and tracing the threads of influence. From the beginning of his career, his objective was to seek out and record the people, environments, and rapidly passing lifestyles of his native region.

Jack Leigh, Live Oak and Bench, 1989. Courtesy SCAD Museum of Art

Full Circle, Low Country Photographs, 1972-2004 is the first museum survey of work by Leigh since his death. The exhibition is on view through October 2 at the SCAD Museum of Art, which re-opened in 2011 after a major expansion, in a repurposed and beautifully reimagined antebellum train station.

Co-curated by Tim Peterson and Susan A. Laney, this mini retrospective covers three decades and includes images from a number of Leigh’s extended projects and books, including Oystering: A Way of Life; The Ogeechee: A River and Its People; Nets & Doors: Shrimping in Southern Waters; and Seaport: A Waterfront at Work. The beautifully printed images capture their subjects with depth and respect.